The healthcare and pharmaceutical sector is, understandably, one of the more self-contained in the events sphere. Organisations in this field are subject to intensely strict compliance and privacy regulations, and it is fundamental that agencies involved in the sector understand this.
By way of example, due to the needs of transparency of healthcare companies' relationships with healthcare professionals, the company must report spend such as sponsorship at congresses, accommodation, travel, and meal spend. Any company that is involved in this sector will expect their agency to understand and be fully conversant with this.
It is hard to place an exact value on the sector’s worth, but it certainly contributes a healthy chunk to the £19bn of conference business in the UK annually.
To learn more about what healthcare and pharmaceutical organisations expect from agencies, I spoke to Dominic Bemrose, business development director at Berkshire-based agency TTA.
I begin by asking how stringent the pitch process is for an agency to secure healthcare event business. “The pitch process is always going to be very stringent,” says Bemrose. “They’re going to want to have as much information as possible. Primarily, that’s around understanding compliance, regulations and all the rest that goes with working in the healthcare sector.
“From the agency they need reassurance. Whether this is through years of experience working within that sector or case studies, they will look into it in detail. It’s not just necessarily compliance, it is also understanding the business, and even to some extent understanding therapy areas as well.
“We’ve recently been on a pitch and the client wanted to know what other events we have worked on for that particular therapy area, for reassurance. There was a lot of scrutiny behind it. The client also wants to understand the types of events we have run, which means we must go into granular detail.”
The healthcare sector is heavily led by procurement, arguably more so than any other industry sector. As a result, healthcare organisations will want to know in-depth details of an agency’s own compliance. An agency will need to demonstrate this.
Further, this means plucky start-up agencies are at a disadvantage. Healthcare organisations will only go to market looking for experience in the field. Bemrose explains: “They’re looking for agencies that have a track history together with supporting case studies. A lot of it comes down to research, followed by the strength of the agency’s reputation.”
In practical terms, getting healthcare professionals along to conferences and congresses isn’t always an easy feat. Indeed, a recent survey says the average healthcare professional attends five events annually, which in most cases requires them to attend as part of their continual professional development. On top of that, not all healthcare professionals are state funded, and those working in private practice (in both the UK and abroad) potentially lose a day’s earnings when attending events.
Bemrose says: “Two days away is sufficient, but the average healthcare professional is not comfortable being away for three days. The preferred travel-time average is about five hours, so it is not uncommon for healthcare professionals to shy away from long-haul flights and instead look at something local.”
It can be argued that institutional industries are slow to evolve with the modern world. Bemrose asserts that the healthcare sector is very much on the move. “We are seeing evidence of sustainability protocols now,” he says. “We recently ran a congress where the client themselves wanted us to distribute leftover food to a homeless charity.
“It is not just about sustainability in the environment, but a broader part of the brief, coming in at the beginning of their marketing material rather than as an afterthought added at the end. Healthcare organisations are taking more notice of their impact and we are all looking at different ways of running events sustainably.”
Karen Kadin, managing partner at Brands at Work, tells me that the healthcare industry has hugely transformed in recent years and that she is seeing unprecedented levels of innovation. The shift toward personalised medicine and more sophisticated science, in part due to the blend of biology, data and technology, is leading to products launching in areas of unmet need. “The big pharma companies are culturally shifting internally to more agile working, encouraging their employees to be more courageous, and to take initiative and speak up,” says Kadin.
She adds that this change has called for braver and bolder employee engagement initiatives, and also notes that clients are being more courageous in their approach to their events.
Kadin says: “The impact of these complex game changer drugs needs to be communicated in experiential ways through the thoughtful use of relatable metaphors and theatrical techniques, all designed to build empathy and understanding with the patient experience, the customer mindset, the disease state and current treatment landscape.
“Our healthcare clients are upping their game in terms of innovation, and so we're doing the same in our creativity. We are breaking down complex content and translating it into personalised event experiences.”